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Behind Brown’s Beach Jacket – The Complete History

It’s March and with winter drawing to a close we’re reluctantly getting ready to retire our prized pieces of outwear. But before we bid farewell to Old Man Winter, allow us to pay homage to a favorite winter staple: Brown’s Beach Jacket.

Brown’s Beach Cloth refers to both a garment and a proprietary two-ply weave blend of 70% wool and 30% cotton. The fabric takes its name from one “Mr. Beach”, an illusive figure who supposedly developed the original fabric blend. However, it was New Englander William W. Brown (not to be confused with the prominent abolitionist William Wells Brown) who first realized commercial application of beach cloth and built a brand around a two-pocket jacket and four-pocket vest of his own design.

Brown's Beach vest by The Real McCoy's.

Brown’s Beach vest by The Real McCoy’s.

Brown’s Beach Cloth jacket (and vest) debuted in 1901 with the intention of combatting the bleak Massachusetts winters. Brown was a one-man brand in the beginning, acting as the sole designer, manufacturer, sales manager, and even model for the company’s garments.

An honest businessman and a shrewd marketer, Brown branded his products “union-made” and “Made in America,” anticipating the slogans’ potential cachet.

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Images courtesy Vintage Workwear

After finding initial success among fisherman, hunters, and outdoorsman, additional designs followed suit. Soon, Brown was applying the fabric to every article of clothing he could think of, from railway caps to work trousers.

Looking to expand, Brown adapted his packaging to reflect his target markets. He iterated on occupations that might benefit from his practical, all-weather garments: construction workers, riggers, farmers, carpenters, policemen, truck drivers, horsemen, and repairmen.

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Images courtesy Archival Clothing

By 1917, within a mere fifteen years, Brown’s Beach Cloth had become a household name and a veritable American institution. After customers wrote to Brown insisting that he not alter the fabric or the manufacturing process, his response was sewn into all future products,

“Brown’s Beach Cloth Jacket is an American tradition. We promise not to tamper with it. To do so would be to violate the trust and needlessly aggrieve old friends like you whose affections for and loyalty to this unique item of apparel have made it the tradition it is. And so the original cloth it shall be—same weave, same color, same weight—and of course the same snap-buttons.”

This personal approach to customer service was evident on other parts of the product, including the garment inspection tag, which endears the wearer as, “Dear Friend: This garment was carefully inspected by me before it left our modern plant. We take special pride in our Outer Wear and in the thoroughness with which we check its quality. I am sure the workmanship of this garment will please and that you will readily see the good value it offers.”

Unsurprisingly, the beach cloth fabric is still synonymous with Brown’s brand. Jackets and vests from the now defunct company fetch prices north of three grand on eBay. In the words of a customer from 1907, “The wearers want the time-tried jacket with the snap buttons.”

A Brown's Beach Vest featured on HBO's Boardwalk Empire.

A Brown’s Beach Vest featured on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.

With television shows like Boardwalk Empire looking back to the 1920s, when the fabric was ubiquitous, beach cloth has experienced a revival among city-dwellers and outdoorsman alike. In the late 2000s, the Japanese retailer Speedway acquired the rights to reproduce the original Beach Jacket and Vest and the fabric’s appeal has only grown since.

Brands have responded to the increase in demand and companies as diverse as The Real McCoy’s, RRL, Sugar Cane & Co., Woolrich, Freewheelers, and Cushman have all developed their own heritage-inspired permutations of Brown’s classic designs. The salt-and-pepper fabric is now available in a number of outwear staples, not limited to: shawl-collar cardigans, lapel blazers, and chore jackets.

Freewheeler's & Co. Image courtesy Hickoree's

Freewheeler’s & Co. Image courtesy Hickoree’s.

Kinfolk, however, takes home the prize for the most unusual application of beach cloth with their interpretation of the MA-1 jacket.

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If you haven’t already burned through your allotted winter budget, check out some of the brands mentioned above to see if you score some beach cloth designs on sale.